Who Among Us Is Good Enough?

Today Tim Archer asked an extremely pertinent question in his blog.  I am paraphrasing what Tim asked.  Tim said, “If you had the authority to change something about Scripture what would you change?”  Wow, what a major question! One thing stood out in my mind as I considered what Tim had asked.  If I could ask God to give additional instruction in just one area I would ask Him to instruct us in how we ought to study and view His Word.  Through the years we have developed our own standard of how God’s Word is to be handled.  If you have spent many years in the Churches of Christ you have certainly become familiar with the acronym “CENI”.  I fear this approach to Scripture has made us extremely self-sufficient in our view of salvation.  If only I can understand and apply this understanding correctly God will approve of me.  In our misdirected view salvation becomes a product of proper intellect and application.  I fear  we believe we can be good enough to be saved totally by intellect and effort.  Salvation becomes a neck up proposition resting entirely on the shoulders of man.  God forbid!

In the story portrayed in Mark 10:17-27 the message is of a rich young man who approaches Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life”  We are familiar with the story.  It continues in verse 25 by Jesus saying,  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  The disciples said, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus gave the answer.  Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God;  All things are possible with God.”  Our culture has problems connecting with this story.  For the Jews riches were a sign of God’s approval.  In their mind if this man couldn’t be saved no man could be saved.  The camel was one of the largest animals they knew.  Jesus was telling them it would be easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle than for even the best among them to be saved on man’s terms.  Making it plan, Jesus was saying none among them could be good enough.

No thought runs more counter to the reason Jesus came to earth than the thought, you can be good enough to be saved.  Man will not be saved because he is good enough but because God is good enough.  Instead of spending effort searching to gain perfect understanding we ought spend our time attempting to gain faith in the promises and actions of God.

Our obedience to God should not be an obedience done so we can be found acceptable at judgement.  Our obedience to God ought to be a result of deep seated thankfulness for what God through Jesus has done for each of us.  As Christians we are good enough to be saved!  It isn’t because of our correct understanding or our proper obedience.  We are good enough because when we accept the gospel God declares us righteous!  The same grace that declares us righteous keeps us righteous.  The assurance of salvation remains ours so long as we seek relationship with Him.  Salvation has been, is now, and forever will be in the hands of God rather than between the ears and by the efforts of man. Think on these things.


What…..Me Judge?

For years the most popular verse from Scripture was John 3:16.  You could see it everywhere.  We saw signs displaying it at ballgames, in malls, at political rallies, and almost anywhere a crowd of people gathered.  Today that verse has been replaced.  As a preacher I hear many Scriptures either quoted or more likely alluded to.  Hands down the most popular Scripture in the minds of men today is Matthew 7:1.  “Judge not that you be not judged.”  We have suddenly developed a deep concern over the unnecessary judgement of another.

If we are going to quote this verse it might be worthwhile if we knew a little about the context of this popular Scripture.  Jesus had delivered a long discourse discussing a number of things that continue to be problems in the lives of many  today.  He brings this to a close by stating we ought not judge or we too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others you too will be judged.  We need to understand  Jesus was not universally banning judgment. What Jesus was telling was this:  proper judgement takes discernment.

Judgement has a place when the restoration of another is the aim.  Our purpose in judgement has to be the preservation of others.  This takes discernment.  In John 8 when the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus those who brought her were not concerned with her preservation.  They were only concerned with trapping Jesus.  Our Lord made a simple statement.  He said, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.” Scripture tells us  from the eldest to the youngest they left.  When only the woman was left Jesus asked, “Woman where are your accusers?”  When she told him they were gone he told her, “Then neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”  Jesus exercised judgement without condemnation. Jesus purpose with this woman was preservation of her soul.  This ought be our purpose as we deal with each other.

Judgement has no place when restoration in not the aim.  Too often we judge others to make ourselves look better.  This ought not be a consideration.  If we aren’t attempting to restore we ought not judge.  Many years ago I heard my father make this statement.  Dad said, “If you can’t be part of the solution don’t be part of the problem.”  Many times our judgement of others becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Please consider these suggestions on how we might judge appropriately:

  • Know the things God has spoken about in a clear manner.  Romans 14 deals with these things.  Too often what we consider to be absolute rock solid unchangeable doctrine are really things that reside in the realm of “disputable matters.” Make sure God is concerned before you become involved.
  • Be careful not to pass judgment on another based on disputable matters. It is important that we give the other person the benefit of the doubt.  Show wisdom in these matters.  Everything is not a salvation issue. Some things do not require that everything be done exactly the same.  Before you get involved make sure it matters.
  • Give the other person the benefit of the doubt we want extended to ourselves. We often judge others actions while judging our own intent.  We need to deal with others as we want to be judged.
  • Am I willing to allow myself to be judged by others? If I am will not allow others to judge my actions I have no right to judge others.
  • Judgement begins at home. We need to evaluate our own lives first.  Before I remove the speck from my brother’s eye, first I must remove the log from my own eye.  I can’t help others until I get me right.

Judgement is a serious matter.  God does not forbid judgement under the right set of circumstances. God  requires discernment on our part. Our purpose in judgement must always be that of restoration or preservation. Any purpose less is not worthy in the eyes of our Lord.

Should We Listen To Our Heart?

We often hear someone say, “Do what you think is right.” We might hear them say, “Just follow your heart.”  Should we listen to our heart?  Is there a place in the daily walk of a Christian to listen to the promptings of your heart?

Many years ago when I was a “young preacher” I was told by a more experienced preacher when we make the decision to come to God we ought do so without emotion. He told me it should an intellectual decision.  This advice is consistent with much of our historical prospective. Due to our approach to Bible study we are sometimes thought of as a “neck-up religion.”

Is there a time to trust the heart even when we can’t make it fit our intellectual box? Consider the thoughts of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  I am grateful for the scientific approach Alexander Campbell brought to us concerning the study of God’s Word.  Yet, we must realize there are times we must trust God with all our heart rather than our own intellectual understanding.  This is one of the short-comings of the method of Bible study brought to us by  brother Campbell.

There is a time to trust what God puts on the heart. Growing up in the Church of Christ I had never heard this thought discussed in a positive religious context. I had never considered the possibility that God mentioned putting anything on the heart of man. Until this point I had always accepted what I had been taught. I had been taught that God works only through Scripture.  If God only worked through Scripture He would never prompt man’s heart separate from Scripture.  Therefore, God would never put anything on the heart of man. After all, if God were to  prompt the heart of man it might not fit into our intellectual method of Bible study.

Consider these Scriptures:

  • Ezra 7:27,  “Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way.”
  • Nehemiah 2:12, “I set out during the night with a few men.  I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.  There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.”
  • Nehemiah 7:5, “So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.  I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return.  This is what I found written there.”
  • 2 Corinthians 8:16, “I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.”
  • Acts 16:14, “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God.  The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”

There is a time to listen to the heart. The Lord recognizes and uses the heart to prompt His servants to obey.  Yet our hearts should not have the final say.  There are times when our heart can lead us astray. Consider these Scriptures:

  • Ephesians 4:18, “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:2, “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”
  • Titus 1:15, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.  In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.”

God recognizes and uses the heart as an invaluable tool in our daily walk with Him. In order for the heart to be of proper value we must be sure that the heart is maintained in a healthy environment.  How do we provide proper heart heath?  How do we learn to listen to our hearts in a way that allows God by His Spirit to lead us? Let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Make sure your heart is consistent with God’s Word. God will never prompt your heart in a direction different from Scripture.  We must know Scripture to know if our heart is consistent with God’s Word.
  • Make sure we spend time listening to God. Often our relationship with God consists of asking Him for things or telling Him what we want.  In any relationship there has to be time spent listening.  We must learn to listen to God.  Unless we listen to God our relationship will never be complete.
  • Make sure your heart is consistent with what Jesus says about the two greatest commands. If our heart is consistent in this area we will find hearts much more useful to God in other areas.
  • What does the rest of the body have to say about our heart? We need to surround ourselves with fellow Christians who know Scripture and know us well.  We don’t need “yes” men.  We need those who will pick us up when we fall.  We need brethren who will help us to heaven.  We need those around us who understand the concept of Galatians 6:1.

Is there a time to listen to the heart?  Consider the fact that God does use the heart to direct his servants. The Lord putting something into our hearts is not just a figure of speech. It is much more, it is actually a God thing!

The Other Son

We are familiar with the story shared by our Lord of what we  have come to know as the story of the prodigal son.  The part of the story we don’t talk about often has to do with the other son.  We don’t discuss this son as much.  Truth is this son is very similar to many of us today.

When the prodigal son returns we find the other son in the field working.  It is largely because of the other son’s efforts that the farm remains. The other son is the brother we would most want our daughters to marry.  We could count on the other son to take care of all obligations including our daughter.  This is just the way he was.  In spite of the good qualities of the other brother there were still problems in his life.  The primary problem was much like many in the religious world today.  This son was depending on his goodness to justify him in the father’s eyes.  He demanded justice instead of grace.  He believed he had lived good enough to count on justice. Notice his reaction when he learns of his brother’s return.  He tells the father, “I have been here slaving for you.  I have never disobeyed and you never killed the fatted calf for me or my friends.”  He didn’t want grace for the returning brother, he wanted justice.

Lets look at some things we learn from the other son:

  • Being good doesn’t make the bad go away.  The other son had a bad attitude and all the good works in the world would not solve this.  Bad attitudes and bad deeds cannot be cancelled by good works.
  • The lifestyle of the other son tends to demand justice.  The last thing we need is justice.  More than anything else in the world we need grace from the Father.
  • The life of the other son leaves no room for those who are different.  The lost do not concern those like the other son because they see them as less than they really are.  Since they can’t match the goodness of the other son they aren’t  viewed as being worth our efforts. If they want what we have let them do as we do and work to get what they need.
  • The life of the other son tends to build a separate standard of acceptability.  This was the problem with the Pharisees.  They were trusting in their own abilities to understand scripture.  Their idea was that in order to be accepted by God you must see all exactly like they saw Scripture.  Their view of Scripture had become the standard instead of Scripture being the standard.  After all they held the “correct view”.
  • The life of the other son allowed no room for humility.  His whole life was built around the concept of complete and perfect understanding and actions.  He would never been able to get his head around the concepts taught in James 4:10.
  • The other son’s lifestyle developed a different attitude from the attitude of the father.  The father was looking to restore fellowship with His son.  He wants to bring everyone under His roof.  The other son was looking for a reason to exclude the returning brother.  The father wanted to draw as many as possible into His circle while the son who was seeking to be justified by works was looking for a reason to keep those who were different out of his circle.  The father and the other son held a very different attitude about who belonged in the circle of fellowship.

There are a number of other conclusions that could be drawn from this story.  These are enough for us to understand that we don’t talk so much about the other son because he makes us uncomfortable.  This other son often times is much like those of us who seek God today.  Think on these things.

The Sound Doctrine /False Doctrine Problem

Perhaps I should have written this post first, but, better late than never I suppose.  I recieved a personal e-mail from a good friend of mine who asked why is this important?  This is a very good question.  Why does this matter?  Whether we realize it or not we in the churches of Christ have built a major portion of our identity around the issue of “sound doctrine.”  This is our culture and direction.  A major portion of who we are is built around the concept of getting the doctrine right.  We want what we call “sound doctrine.”  Much of our preaching is done to oppose “false doctrine.”   Right or wrong this is who we are.

I am not sure we have placed our identity where the Lord intended.  In fact I believe Scripture teaches that our purpose as Christians today is to preach Christ as Savior.  But, if we are going to place our identity in getting the “doctrine” absolutely right,  we need to make sure that our definitions match those of Scripture.  If we have missed the Biblical intent of the definition of false and sound doctrine, we have at the very least misplaced our identity as a people.

If we are going to pride ourselve in holding sound doctrine and opposing false doctrine we must allow Scripture to dictate what sound and false doctrine is.  Otherwise we have missed the point entirely.  If we are seeking this direction as our identity we must make sure the direction is from God. 

The purpose for identifying  the definitions of these words from Scripture is to make sure that God has His hand in whatever direction we pursue.  If man chooses both the direction and definition of the direction God has no hand in it.

False doctrine/sound doctrine-part 4

For many years we have taught that Bible things ought to be called by Bible names.  I want to take that a step farther; Bible terms ought to be defined by Bible usage.  In other words, when we use a Bible term it must be used in the same way it is used in Scripture in order for it to be applied from Scripture to our lives today.  As I stated in part two of this series baptism meant a particular thing in Scripture.  Today’s meaning has changed.  In order to apply Scripture we must rely on the word’s Scriptural meaning.

Like the term “sound doctrine” the term “false doctrine” has changed in meaning.  Quoting from an article I read recently the term false doctrine was used this way,  “What false teaching IS, is teaching God’s inspired word to imply something that is not true or is not compatible with other verses dealing with the same subject.”  This may be a perfectly acceptable usage of the term by today’s standards.  The problem is that in today’s religious culture we have assigned a meaning to this word that is not compatible with the meaning assigned to it in Scripture.  This is the same problem we see with today’s usage of the term “baptism” as well as the term “sound doctrine”.  If we are going to understand the intent of Scripture it is essential that we maintain a common standard.  That common standard has to be the standard that was set down by the original usage of the term in Scripture.

1 Timothy 1:3-10 gives us a Biblical definition of “false doctrine”.  Verse 9-10 says, “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers–and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.   According to this text, false doctrine is teaching that leads to a lifestyle that is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of God.  Stated otherwise, false  doctrine is teaching that leads to a lifestyle which opposes the lifestyle produced by sound doctrine.

We see further evidence of this definition given by Scripture in 1 Timothy 6:3 when it says if anyone teaches false doctrine he does not agree with the sound instruction of our Lord.  The results of this false doctrine is described by stating such teaching leads to conceit and an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words which results in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction.

In Titus chapters two and three we see these same terms described to us again from Scripture.  Paul’s writing to Titus describes both terms in words that remain consistent to the description he gives to Timothy.  After describing “sound doctrine” Paul warns Titus in Titus 3:9-10.  He says, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.”  Paul again states in verse 14 of this same chapter that “our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.” 

According to the original intent of Scripture the teaching of sound doctrine is teaching that produces a lifestyle that honors our Lord.  False doctrine produces the opposite lifestyle.  It produces a life that is filled with sin, division and all that opposes honor to God. 

Today we have expanded these two terms to encompass so much more.  We  have expanded them to include definitions of words, thoughts and interpretations of Scripture.  While expanding these terms to fit our religious purpose we have diminished the original intent to the point it no longer matches the intent of Scripture.  Just as the world has changed the intent of the word “baptism”  we have also changed the meaning of the terms “sound and false doctrine.”  Changing the meaning of these terms has led to constant division.  This was one of the original warnings against false doctrine.  Have we in our intellectual pursuit  of truth missed what we so earnestly want? 

Truth is not found on man’s terms.  Truth can only be found on the basis of God’s intent.  We have built a portion of our religious identity around the terms “sound and false doctrine.”  If we fail to allow Scripture to  determine the intent of the terms can our identity be “sound?”

False Doctrine / Sound Doctrine-Part 3

In Paul’s letter to Titus it is stated in chapter 2 verse 1, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”  Beginning with verse two Titus is told  what qualifies as being consistent with sound doctrine.  In the remainder of chapter two he deals with the things  five different groups of individuals are to be taught.   The details of  these  teachings is the Biblical foundation for sound doctrine.

In three of these groups Paul shares with Titus the purpose of the things he was to teach.  The teaching and application of sound doctrine will bring certain results.  The younger women were instructed to live in such a way that “no one will malign the word of God”.  The young men were to hold to a certain lifestyle so that “those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about you.” Slaves were to be instructed to conduct themselves so that “in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”  Sound doctrine always produces a lifestyle that makes the appearance of those who follow its teaching productive to the cause of Christ.  Sound doctrine is concerned with how lives are lived.

In his letter to Titus,  Paul has given us the Biblical definition and application of sound doctrine.  From the context the only conclusion that can be drawn is  that the teaching of sound doctrine is the teaching of a lifestyle that follows in the footsteps of Jesus.  Paul continues  in Titus 2:15 and following by telling them that these are the things that will be in accord with sound doctrine.  Paul says, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good.”  This lifestyle is sound doctrine.  Paul concludes in Titus 3:14 by saying, “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.”  Productive Christian lives are lived in the footsteps of Christ.  According to the definition given by Paul to Titus a life lived in the footsteps of the Messiah is the Biblical description of sound doctrine.

Among many today the definition of sound doctrine has been changed.  Today’s definition  is often  much broader than the definition we find in Scripture.  The definition of sound doctrine today has been expanded to include an acceptance and application of  man’s  interpretation of Scripture and the religious traditions he holds dear.  Unfortunately this is not the definition originally given by inspiration.  To hold to this broader discription  is to go far beyond what was revealed or written by God.  If we are to please God our definitions must follow the intent God provided through inspiration in the original text.  If we rewrite the original  definition so that it suits today’s intent we may produce a definition that pleases us, but it certainly will not be the Biblical definition given by inspiration.  Think on these things!  Tomorrow we will discuss the Scriptural definition of  “false doctrine”.